The name derives from the idea that the movement would
be necessary to conserve Jewish traditions in the U.S., a culture in
which Reform and Orthodoxy were not believed to be viable. Conservative
Judaism attempts to combine a positive attitude toward modern culture,
acceptance of critical secular scholarship regarding Judaism's sacred texts and commitment
to Jewish observance. Conservative Judaism believes that scholarly study
of Jewish texts indicates that Judaism has constantly been evolving
to meet the needs of the Jewish people in varying circumstances, and
that a central halachic authority can continue the halachic evolution today.
Attitude Toward Halacha
Conservative Judaism affirms that the halachic process
reflects the Divine will. It makes use of Solomon
Schechter's concept of Klal Yisrael (the whole of the [observant]
Jewish community), in that decisions on Jewish Law are largely determined
by the practices of Klal Yisrael.
In Conservative Judaism, the central halachic authority
of the movement, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), will
often set out more than one acceptable position. In such a case, the
rabbi of the congregation (mara d'atra) is free to choose from
the range of acceptable positions (or none of them), and his congregation
is expected to abide by his choice. The CJLS speaks for the Conservative
movement and offers parameters to guide local rabbis who turn to it
for assistance. Local rabbis will make use of traditional sources and,
when available, teshuvot written for the CJLS. Although rabbis
mostly adhere to the CJLS, they have the ability to make their own halchic decisions when appropriate.
An exception is made in the case of "standards."
A "standard" requires an 80 percent (not unanimous) vote of
the membership of the CJLS (not just those in attendance) and a majority
vote by the plenum of the Rabbinical Assembly. At present, there are
1. Rabbis and cantors are prohibited to officiate
at intermarriages in any way.
2. The performance of remarriages without an acceptable get (divorce according
to Jewish law) or other halachic termination of the previous marriage whether by death or haf'kaat kidushin (annulment) is prohibited..
3. The recognition of Jewish lineage through matrilineal
4. Conversions to Judaism requires both circumcision and mikveh immersion for males
and only the latter for females.
Willful violations have led to resignations or expulsions
from Rabbinical Assembly membership.
Conservative Judaism holds that the laws of the Torah and Talmud are of
divine origin, and thus mandates the following of halacha (Jewish law).
At the same time, the Conservative movement recognizes the human element
in the Torah and Talmud, and accepts modern scholarship that shows that
Jewish writings also show the influence of other cultures, and in general
can be treated as historical documents. Conservative Judaism affirms
the legitimitacy of scientific biblical criticism.
The movement believes that God is real and that God's will is made known to humanity through revelation.
The revelation at Sinai was the clearest and most public of such divine
revelations, but revelation also took place with other people
and, according to some, in a more subtle form can happen even today.
Many people misinterpret Conservative Judaism as being
like Reform Judaism except with more Hebrew in its services; they believe that if one simply goes to a Conservative synagogue, then one is a
Conservative Jew. This, of course, is not true, and the movement's leadership
is strongly concerned with whether or not the next generation of Conservative
Jews will have the commitment to lead an authentic Jewish lifestyle.